The last five years have been great. But, the best is yet to come.” That was the prediction of Richard F. “Rick” Neel, president, Southeast Fair fax Development Corporation.
But, there is a catch. That prediction would come true only if all parties to the revitalization of Richmond highway “made smart decisions today,” Neel, one of three featured speakers, told the crowd assembled at Belle Haven Country Club last Thursday evening for the annual Economic Development Review dinner of the Mount Vernon-Lee Chamber of Commerce.
“Our challenge is to position the Richmond Highway corridor to capitalize on the influx from BRAC and the tourism expected from the Museum of the U.S. Army. We need to redouble our marketing efforts,” he said.
“Everyone in the community benefits from economic revitalization. The future is bright for Richmond Highway if we continue to work together,” Neel said.
Those predictions were buttressed by Lee District Supervisor Dana Kauffman as he compared what has been happening on “The Highway,” from the Capital Beltway to Fort Belvoir, to that which he recently observed further south in the Woodbridge area. On a trip of curiosity in Prince William County this is what Kauffman observed.
“First, as a gateway, Prince William offered Virginia Concrete to the right and a rusty CSX bridge to the left. I then saw more boarded-up buildings in the first two blocks than we have in the entire seven miles of our revitalization district,” he said.
Also referring to the anticipated growth at Fort Belvoir as a result of the Base Realignment and Closure Report, Kauffman rhetorically asked where all the new contractors, coming to the area as a result of BRAC, will be able to call home? “If they want approval for more office space, they’ve got it in a heartbeat,” he said.
Kauffman emphasized that “our part of Route One has turned the corner and is no longer the handout part of Fairfax County. Over the last three years Tyson’s Mall saw an increase of 46 percent,” he said. Over that same period “Route 1 and the Reston Town Center are tied at 52 percent,” Kauffman claimed.
“Yes folks, over the past three years our commercial investments have outpaced the mighty Tyson’s and are holding their own with Reston,” he said. Kauffman also touted the “all new fleet of CNG buses” scheduled for this summer to make the REX system even better.
“In addition to these new buses, you will be able to walk from Belvoir to the Beltway on sidewalks all along the route 1 corridor in the future. Fairfax County has and will continue to invest in your success. The ROI (return on investment) is now proven and our future looks even brighter,” Kauffman said.
ROUNDING OUT the triumvirate was Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald Hyland. He urged the group to broaden their perspective and look beyond what has traditionally been their primary concern — that stretch of Route 1 from the Beltway to Fort Belvoir.
“As we have looked at Route 1 over the years we have not looked too much further south than Belvoir. Now BRAC has forced us to look all the way to Woodbridge,” Hyland said.
“I would hope that we would look at broadening our perspective to the south. BRAC will only work if the local, state and federal governments come together to strengthen the infrastructure of the area,” he said.
“We’ve got to insist the federal government provide the funds necessary to get people on and off the post. We need them to improve the roads and bring rail to this area of Fairfax County,” Hyland stressed.
In referring to the apparent stalemate on completing the final link of the Fairfax County Parkway in the area of the Engineering Proving Grounds, Hyland revealed that during a recent meeting in the office of U.S. Sen. John Warner (R-VA) “the Army was directed to build the road and turn it over to the county.” He explained that this initiative by Warner would break the deadlock between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Virginia Department of Transportation. That situation prompted the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to seek a new route for the parkway link that would avoid the Engineering Proving Grounds.
On two other subjects, Hyland noted that Fairfax County’s demographics are changing. “Within 20 years the population of our seniors will double,” he said. He also called for more affordable housing, especially for area workers. “We need to find a way to have our employees live here. If we are to survive as a vibrant community we need to address this problem head on,” he said.
Following the speeches there was a question and answer session monitored by Chamber President Kahan S. Dhillon, Jr. which touched on such matters as the widening of Route 1, placing utilities underground, and the establishment of a County visitors’ center on Route 1.
On the first item, Kauffman explained that plans call for widening to be limited to the area between the two curb lines. “We don’t want it widened to the point where we need landing lights,” he said.
As for undergrounding public utilities, Hyland noted, “If we tried to do that now the major challenge would be funding. The price is astronomical.” Kauffman added, “It’s something we can do on a case-by-case basis. But, I’d rather see the estimated cost of $1 million per mile go toward improving transportation.”
Speaking to the establishment of a visitors’ center, Hyland noted that “Marriott is proposing no less than four facilities along Route 1. One of those is at the IMP building where the owners are being encouraged to put in a visitors’ center.”
In addition to hearing from the three speakers, those in attendance were able to speak with various exhibitors that included SFDC, several real estate firms, and JPI Corporation, proposed developers of the Kings Crossing site at the intersection of North Kings Highway and Route 1. The event affords members of the Chamber an opportunity to hear from and question the supervisors whose districts straddle the Route 1 corridor.